January 26, 2005

DENYING THE LAW WHILE CLAIMING ITS PROTECTIONS:

Tortured Logic on Torture: Andrew Sullivan misinterprets Abu Ghraib (Heather Mac Donald, 25 January 2005, City Journal)

In 1987, the United States rejected an amendment to the Geneva conventions that would have conferred prisoner of war status on terrorists. The Washington Post and the New York Times applauded the decision. “We must not, and need not, give recognition and protection to terrorist groups as a price for progress in humanitarian law,” editorialized the Post. Granting terrorists such recognition, the papers explained, would eviscerate a central purpose of the Geneva conventions: to safeguard noncombatants. By making the protections accorded to lawful combatants conditional on obedience to the rules of war—which forbid targeting civilians and hiding in the civilian population—the conventions create an incentive for soldiers to behave lawfully.

Journalist and blogger Andrew Sullivan has a different idea. For Sullivan, who accuses the Bush administration of torture in the January 23 New York Times Book Review, prisoner of war status is an absolute entitlement, not a privilege earned by responsible behavior. Every combatant, no matter how vicious his actions toward noncombatants, has a right to be treated as a lawful soldier, in Sullivan’s view. And thus, the Bush administration’s refusal to grant POW status to suspects taken in the war on terror represents not a judgment based on the law but a failure of moral vision: “The message sent,” writes Sullivan, “was: these prisoners are beneath decent treatment.”

In Sullivan’s account, the administration’s POW ruling led directly to the “torture” of prisoners. It was the “critical enabling decision” that made the “abuse of innocents almost inevitable.” This “torture narrative” ignores some inconvenient facts, however. First, the government ruled unequivocally that the Geneva conventions applied in Iraq, where the overwhelming majority of prisoner abuse occurred. In fact, that abuse had one cause and one cause only: the wholesale and inexcusable breakdown of military order in Iraq that allowed soldiers to violate their rules of engagement. Stomping on detainees, forcing them to masturbate, hitting them—these behaviors were obvious, gross infractions in every war zone. That breakdown of military order had nothing to do with any Geneva decisions pro or con, but resulted from Pentagon planners’ incompetent response to the insurgency. (The Schlesinger report, which supports the administration’s Geneva convention rulings and the resultant interrogation policies, reaches the same conclusion.) Moreover, nearly all the abuse had nothing to do with official interrogation, contrary to Sullivan’s claims. It was perpetrated by fighting soldiers at the point of capture and by military guards intent on punishing prisoners or simply abusing them for “fun.”

Second, if, in Sullivan’s view, the point of Geneva convention decisions is to demonstrate the detaining power’s moral sensitivity, as opposed to establishing a legal framework for the conduct of war, the administration’s ruling clearly did exactly that. President Bush declared that terror detainees were to be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.” Amazingly, Sullivan mocks this order, even though it articulates the moral understanding that he claims the administration lacked. Sullivan consistently fails to distinguish between behavior that violated interrogation policy and the policy itself. This is a crucial distinction. The fact that rules can be broken does not mean that the rules are invalid. It is a sad fact that abuse occurs in American domestic prisons; I presume Sullivan would not on that ground abolish prisons. The proper response to rule violations is to punish the wrongdoers, which is occurring, and to reform management. [...]

But the biggest flaw of Sullivan’s torture indictment is his casual disregard for the Geneva framework. He can’t be bothered to assess whether a combatant has met the conditions for prisoner of war status. Sullivan calls the “distinction between ‘prisoners of war’ and ‘unlawful combatants’ ” “so vague” as to make abuse inevitable. In fact, Article 4 of Geneva Convention III could not be clearer or more straightforward: under Article 4, terrorists could not possibly be covered. Sullivan accuses President Bush of not wanting to “stay . . . within the letter of the law”; in fact, it was the president who was following the literal language of the conventions, and Sullivan who ignores that language.

If the Geneva drafters had meant to include every combatant in the Third Convention, they would not so carefully have circumscribed the conditions for coverage. Sullivan’s anything-goes approach makes the process of reaching international humanitarian accords meaningless by throwing out the resulting handiwork. It was an achievement of high civilization to have agreed with other developed nations to treat each other’s soldiers humanely when we catch them in war.

To allow barbarous fanatics like al-Qaida to destroy as well the legal framework of reciprocity and responsible behavior that those accords established would not be an advance of “freedom” as Sullivan puts it, but its demise.


I've got a question: if the prospect of torture is as awful as such folk claim, why doesn't al Qaeda step forward and sign the Geneva Convention and why haven't any of our enemies ever obeyed it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2005 8:50 PM
Comments

The United States is the beacon of freedom and liberty in the world. Why should we limit ourselves to the minimum standards required by international law? What part of our national character is exalted by the mistreatement of prisoners? Just because it's legal doesn't make it right.

Posted by: Steve at January 26, 2005 9:04 PM

The Italians obeyed the Geneva Convention.

Posted by: Brandon at January 26, 2005 9:27 PM

Steve:

The United States has also been the beacon of maximally brutal warfare, which is why we've won.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2005 9:37 PM

Brandon:

They shipped non combatants to the death camps.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2005 9:38 PM

Liberty don't come cheap.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 26, 2005 9:56 PM

Why haven't these unlawful combatants summarily executed, as permitted under the Genenva Conventions?

Posted by: sam at January 26, 2005 10:11 PM

OJ,

Not willingly. During the war, the safest place for a Jew in Europe was in Italy.

http://www.cygneis.com/anastaplo/collections/rpccl/rapp08.htm

Posted by: Brandon at January 26, 2005 10:24 PM

Mr. Judd;

I have to agree with sam. The USA military isn't maximally brutal, it's maximally deadly. We haven't won because we brutalized the enemy's troops, but because we followed Patton's advice and made them die for their country.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 26, 2005 11:33 PM

AOG is right.

The US military long very effective, has become even more so as it has become more deadly, not more brutal.

One of the most important principles of war is Economy of Force, which mere brutality contradicts.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 27, 2005 7:28 AM

"I've got a question: if the prospect of torture is as awful as such folk claim, why doesn't al Qaeda step forward and sign the Geneva Convention..."

Some possibilities, as far as AQ goes:

(1) Torture can be so bad that normal people might _pray_ for death when they're being tortured, but the normal logic of deterrence doesn't work with evil fanatics who hope to die as martyrs.

(2) Al Qaeda's view of the world is so distorted that they will always think we're performing torture and other evil acts. People who seriously believe the USA sent AIDS-infected prostitutes into Egypt easily rationalize their own horrid acts as in-kind retaliation.

(3) They're so self-righteous, literally believing they have a mandate from God, that they think their ends justify any means.

(4) They have no chance of achieving their goals through normal military means, so they've concluded that the Geneva Conventions are of no use to them.

Posted by: Peter Caress at January 27, 2005 8:21 AM

Peter:

Yes, so the prospect of torture doesn't actually affect anyone's behavior, does it?

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 9:37 AM

"Sullivan, who accuses the Bush administration of torture in the January 23 New York Times Book Review ..."

Hey, I read the January 23 New York Times Book Review, and I don't remember the Bush administration torturing anybody in it.

Posted by: Semolina at January 27, 2005 9:40 AM

Torture doesn't affect hardcore Al Qaeda terrorists' behavior, no. Other people are more likely to factor it into their calculations.

Posted by: Peter Caress at January 27, 2005 9:44 AM

Peter: I'm surprised that you're making pro-torture arguments.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 27, 2005 9:55 AM

The Italians and more or less the Germans folowed the Conventions as to British and US prisoners only. Russian and other "lesser" peoples did not get such benefits.

The Japanese, North Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese certainly did not folow them. So, how do the Conventions benefit US soldiers exactly?

We launched mass terror bombing raids against Japan and Germany. We killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. I agree with OJ, we certainly are brutal. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I think it was Sherman that said that war was brutal and could not be cleaned up. Look at the March to the Sea for further evidence of brutality. That was directed at American civilians by the way.

Posted by: Bob at January 27, 2005 10:00 AM

Peter:

Who ever has?

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 10:10 AM

oj - Italian Jews did have an unusually high survival rate, partly due to the strength of the Catholic Church there. Your article link doesn't refute Brandon, it only shows there were fascists in Italy.

Posted by: pj at January 27, 2005 10:39 AM

pj:

Franco saved Jews. Mussolini handed them to Hitler.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 11:14 AM

All;

I think we're using different definitions of "brutal". Since this post was about torture, I took brutal to mean the deliberate infliction of pain. The counter-examples by OJ and Bob are not about inflicting pain but inflicting death, which was my point (thanks for backing me up, dudes!). Does anyone believe that those running the American military would have hestitated even a moment to use weapons that hurt less while killing more?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 27, 2005 12:42 PM

AOG:

The dead have families, who suffer in the aftermath, nevermind collateral damages. Meanwhile, when we wage war these days we barely have casualties.

Posted by: oj at January 27, 2005 12:50 PM

Jeff has NO CLUE as to what the principle of Economy of Force. He seems to imagine it to be the antithesis of the premiere principle, that of Mass, which means focusing overwhelming combat power on the point of descision.

Economy of force refers to something quite different: intelligently disposing limited forces to shape the conflict, usually with a view toward applying your massed force where and when it will be most overwelmning.

So the Nine Principles of War were taught at Quantico in the '70's, so they are today. You can look it up on Google, if you are so inclined.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 27, 2005 1:48 PM

Permit me to expand the earlier comment on Ecomomy of Force with an illustration. Historical illustrations of the Principles of War abound, for the principles themselves are historically derived. One of the clearest was Lee's use of limited forces to block the Caoctin Mountain passes against McClellan's attempt to mass his forces preparatory to the Battle of Antietam/Shapsburg. Time wascritical, for Lee had devided his strength as part of the operation to take Harper's Ferry. McClellan had received a copy of the Confederate orders, and knew they were so scattered.

Small Confederate forces--"Economy of Force" units, delayed the Union concentration long enough for Lee to assemble enough combat power at Sharpsburg to successfully defend, for all that these detachments, as is usual in such cases, took dreadful losses.

Antietam/Sharpsburg also illustrates, in a negative way, the primacy of Mass, as the North snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory by tentative, seriatim attacks, in the manner of WWII Japanese infantry tactics.

Economy of Force is never a code word for faint-hearted, nickle-and-dime tactics. As the people who best wrote these ideas down, and whose books graced a lot of instructors' desks at Quantico, used to put it, "Klotzen nicht kleckern."

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 27, 2005 3:58 PM

Lou:

I in fact do have a clue about economy of force.

You can use a 1000 B-17s and 8,000 some odd bombs to wreck a ball bearing plant and most of the surrounding countryside. Or you can use one F-117 and 2 2,000 lb bombs to get the critical nodes and leave most of the facility, and all the surrounding countryside, intact.

Precision targeting means we can achieve the same ends using far less force. Economy of force means using no more than is absolutely required to achieve the desired goal. Therefore, using Economy of Force to attain specific goals contradicts mere brutality, which urges using as much force as you can muster.

Further Lou, where you got He seems to imagine it to be the antithesis of the premiere principle, that of Mass, which means focusing overwhelming combat power on the point of descision. from what I wrote is way the heck beyond me. Perhaps it is your imagination that requires reining in.


Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 28, 2005 7:06 AM

Jeff: We both need to rein in the hyperbole a bit, fear. Economy of Force most definitely does not mean using just enough combat power and no more to accomplish the mission. The references are quite plain on this, and can be produced if necessary.

The example of precision guided munitions more accurately belongs within the province of Mass, as one may mass fires as well as mere numbers of troops. Try to keep all the principles in view at the same time. Mass is related to Objective, and yes, overwhelming, brutal force is exactly what is to be applied to secure the Hauptpunkt--the point of decision. We need to keep in mind also that the Hauptpunkt is not necessarily material. Victory means overthrowing the enemy's will as well as his ability to resist.

Interestingly enough, the words "overwhelming, brutal force" were right out of the Quantico playbook.

Using just barely enough force to take the objective is a prescription for incrementalism and defeat, and it is certainly not an expression of the principle of Economy of Force, which,as I had explained, pertains not to the force one uses to attain the objective, but to that force one employs to shape the combat, as when you delay, channelize or otherwise restrict the maneuver of the enemy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 28, 2005 7:55 AM

We obviously didn't need to destroy the entire infrastructure of Iraq to topple Saddam.

Posted by: oj at January 28, 2005 8:39 AM

oj: That is correct, precisely because the force used was so brutal and overwhelming. The ground war was fought in environment of total air supremacy, and it most certainly followed the principles of war.

I studied these concepts in The Basic School, Amphibious Warfare School and in the Reserve Command and Staff course. It was a long time ago, but the ideas have changed very little.

The problem we are having coming to an understanding of the principle of Economy of Force right now is one of perspective. To return to the Antietam/Sharpsburg example, the use of Toomb's brigade to hold the Lower Bridge against the entire Union Ninth Corps was a perfect example of Economy of Force from the point of view of the Army of Northern Virginia. From the standpoint of Toomb's brigade, the objective was achieved by the massing of all available combat power, in this case defensive fires, on the decisive point, namely the bridge itself.

The perspective error is a most common one, and is presented as such in service schools.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 28, 2005 11:22 AM

oj: That is correct, precisely because the force used was so brutal and overwhelming. The ground war was fought in environment of total air supremacy, and it most certainly followed the principles of war.

I studied these concepts in The Basic School, Amphibious Warfare School and in the Reserve Command and Staff course. It was a long time ago, but the ideas have changed very little.

The problem we are having coming to an understanding of the principle of Economy of Force right now is one of perspective. To return to the Antietam/Sharpsburg example, the use of Toomb's brigade to hold the Lower Bridge against the entire Union Ninth Corps was a perfect example of Economy of Force from the point of view of the Army of Northern Virginia. From the standpoint of Toomb's brigade, the objective was achieved by the massing of all available combat power, in this case defensive fires, on the decisive point, namely the bridge itself.

The perspective error is a most common one, and is presented as such in service schools.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 28, 2005 11:24 AM

Lou:

I wrote an AF Senior Service School paper on how the WWII Strategic Bombing Campaign inherently violated Economy of Force because defensive formations ran directly counter to concentrating fire on the target.

And got the SSS equivalent of an A+ for my efforts.

PGMs, in and of themselves, do not apply to mass. After all, there is nothing, other than Economy of Force, stopping us from using 20 when 2 would do. Or, for that matter, using explosives to shut down a an electrical power generating station when non-explosive carbon fiber strands will do.

The tactical situation and strategic goals (understanding that ostentatious use of force might advance either) determine Economy of Force in this situation.

Using any more force than necessary to shut down the power station for longer than required might very well be self defeating, therefore we would economize on how much force we apply to the target.

This reasoning applies equally well with your Toomb's brigade example. More force was available for the task, but not used because any additional force would not commensurately improve the tactical situation.

And also applies to what I said about AOG's comment--using only that force required to reach the objective eliminates pointless brutality.

One or two appropriately placed PGMs in 1945 would have rendered a couple atomic weapons completely redundant.

If that isn't Economy of Force, then what is?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at January 28, 2005 1:55 PM

Which begs the question of why we always use more.

Posted by: oj at January 28, 2005 2:51 PM

Nobody has ever, ever followed the Geneva Convention.

The only thing that protects prisoners is the fear that the other side will retaliate.

If the other side doesn't have any prisoners, or if the prisoner-holding party does not care what happens to its own, then it goes hard for POWs.

'Torture' requires defintion, though.

My paper today headlines 'sex tactics' used at Guantanamo. The story does not actually call it torture, but the implication is that it was pretty horrible.

The Americans paraded cute girls in miniskirts in front of the cages. O! the humanity!

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 28, 2005 4:30 PM

Jeff, you still don't get it. Please look at the official sources: five munutes on Google will clear it up.

Economy of Force as one of the Nine Principles of War has not changed since I studied War in the Marine Corps, and it does not mean one thing for the Air Force and another for the rest of us. EoF mean allocating minimal essential combat power on secondary efforts. It is ancillary to the principle of Mass, in that it aims at maximizing combat power of the point of decision--the Hauptpunkt--by using a small force to shape the combat. Of course you want to service targets appropriately, and PGM's enable you to concentrate, that is, mass, fires more effectively, but that is not what EoF means.

It most definitely does not mean niggardlyness of force, hoping that you may just get by with barely enough. Current doctrine is consistent with the "school solution" definition, although you may find individual papers which stray into incrementalism.

oj: We use more than just enough because we are not sure in advance just how much force will suffice, because we wish to minimize our our losses, and because our ultimate objective is the emeny's will to resist. It may be all very well to scatter our enemy, see him driven before us, and hear the lamentation of his women, but it is better to just heawr him say, "Please sirs, no more bombs."

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 30, 2005 12:14 PM

No, we use excessive force to punish folks for making us fight them in the first place.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2005 6:22 PM
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